Growing Garlic

Planting Garlic In Spring February 28, 2016 14:50 1 Comment

Many gardeners do their garden planning during the winter or very early spring. This includes looking through all the seed catalogs and deciding what they will be planting in spring. Sometimes, this includes wanting to plant garlic in spring (see our Spring Garlic Seed) even though it is not generally the best time of year. In colder climates like Canada, this can be a bit of a problem and requires a bit of special attention.

Planting Garlic In Spring

In Canada, most garlic is planted in the fall as the plants require a natural dormant period that includes cold temperatures. When you plant in the fall, the garlic starts growing roots until the temperatures freeze and then waits until spring to continue growing. This allows the garlic plants to get a head start on root growth and then explode out of the ground once temperatures warm up in spring. That's why garlic is often one of the first crops growing in spring.

That being said, garlic can still be planted in spring if someone is determined. It can be hard to find garlic seed to plant in spring, however you can sometimes find "spring garlic seed" for sale at garden centres or greenhouses. This garlic is almost always a softneck garlic and does not need as much (or any) cold exposure as hardneck garlic.

The key to planting garlic in spring is to plant as early as possible. That means planting the garlic cloves as soon as the soil is workable and long before you would consider planting any other garden crops. Even if the forecasted temperatures are for very cold weather, the garlic cloves  should still be planted as they are very cold hardy. 

Garlic is sensitive to day length changes and not having enough days with increasing day length can affect the size of the bulbs or even the formation of cloves within the bulbs. That is why planting garlic too late in spring will often just form rounds which are single clove bulbs. These rounds are perfectly good to eat and can be replanted in fall. They will usually form good sized bulbs with multiple cloves the next summer.

Another technique that some growers can use is to put the garlic in a very cold refrigerator for a few weeks. The ideal temperature is 0 to -3 degrees when trying to vernalize or "trick" the garlic into thinking it went through winter. Although -3 degrees is ideal, the refrigerator temperatures can also work. 

The spring planted garlic will almost always be smaller than fall planted garlic and will sometimes not form cloves. This however should not dissuade a dedicated gardener who really wants to plant garlic in spring, as it can still be very rewarding and perfectly good garlic can be harvested.  


When to harvest Garlic July 06, 2015 03:08

Many new gardeners and growers will often ask the question "when is the best time to harvest my garlic?" or "how do I know my garlic is ready to harvest?". There is some debate among garlic growers as to the perfect time for harvesting, but there are a few important guidelines to consider:

Time of Year

In Canada, garlic is usually harvested from mid-July to late-August depending on the region and type of garlic being grown. Although calendar dates can help determine when to harvest garlic in a certain location, they should only be used as a guideline. Garlic maturity and harvest times can be heavily dependant on weather conditions. Spring emergence, summer temperatures and moisture conditions all have an affect on when the garlic plants mature and when they will be ready for harvest. This means that garlic harvesting dates can shift from year to year in any particular growing area.  

Garlic Varieties

It is not a surprise that different garlic varieties are ready to harvest at different times. This can make things tricky if you have a number of different types of garlic in your garden or field. Although knowing the type of garlic you are growing will not give you a specific time when to harvest, it can help you to be prepared for when to start observing the plants.  

Generally, Asiatic and Turban garlic varieties will be harvested on the early side. They tend to mature very quickly and need to be harvested before they lose too many bulb rappers and split open. Other garlic varieties belonging to the Porcelain, Rocambole and Artichoke families take longer to mature and can be left in the ground longer.

Scapes

In hardneck varieties, scapes are formed during the growing season and removed before they fully form (see scape removal for more information). The garlic bulbs are usually ready 2 to 4 weeks after the scapes have emerged. This is not the main signal for when to harvest the garlic, but gives you an idea of when to start paying closer attention.

Garlic Leaves & Bulb Wrappers

The most reliable signal of when to harvest your garlic, is to observe the number of garlic leaves that have died versus the number that are still green. Garlic will continue to grow and increase its bulb size as long as there are still green leaves on the plant. This means that you want to leave the garlic in the ground growing for as long as possible to maximize bulb growth, but not so long that they start to deteriorate.

For Hardneck garlic, it is usually recommended that the bulbs are dug up when half the garlic plant leaves are still green and half are brown. Some growers like to harvest when there are still 1/3 of the leaves green and others when there are still 2/3 of the leaves green. This comes down to personal preference and depends on a few factors such as how much cleaning the garlic will require, how long you want the garlic bulbs to store once harvested and the garlic variety being grown.

It is important to remember that the number of leaves on a garlic plant corresponds to the number of bulb wrapper layers. This means that as the leaves turn brown and die, the corresponding bulb wrappers begin to die and deteriorate as well. For example, if you have 6 green leaves when a plant is harvested you should have 6 layers of bulb wrappers protecting the cloves and allowing for cleaning and handling of the garlic. If you have no green leaves, you probably have bulbs with exposed cloves that are unprotected. 

Softneck garlic varieties can usually tolerate a longer period of time in the ground leading up to harvest. They tend to have tighter, more durable wrappers that can usually handle a little more stress. Some growers wait until half the garlic plants have fallen over as the signal that harvest should begin. Although this works in some cases, it is still a good idea to follow a similar strategy described for hardneck garlic, as they share the same principles around the number of leaves and bulb wrappers.


Caring for Garic in Spring May 03, 2015 08:54

Weeding Garlic
Taking care of your garlic early in spring is important...and fun! 

So it's spring time and your garlic has either survived the winter or was recently planted in spring - Now what? Most of us are excited to get out into our gardens or fields but are sometimes unsure as to what to start with. On my farm, there are three import things that I do every spring when caring for our garlic. They have worked well for years and I have found that they get the garlic off to a great start.

Plant Scouting

Spring is the first good opportunity of the growing season to assess the health of your garlic and to see if there are any problems. Checking your garlic (or any other garden or field vegetables) regularly is very important and helps you to grow strong healthy plants while avoiding potential problems that can come up.

On my farm, I check the garlic almost every day in spring and every other day during the peak growing season. I have found over the years that plants can look perfect one day and then an issue arises seemingly overnight. This can be insects showing up, a disease problem or even something like poor growth from low nutrient levels.

Noticing a problem right away can give you important time to find a solution. Most problems start small and are easily dealt with when found early. Also, pulling out weak or diseased plants starting at the beginning of the season is a good opportunity to start making selections and weeding out any plants that aren't in good condition and may cause you problems later.

Weeding

My whole philosophy around weed control is "weed early, weed often, all season long!" I have found this to be especially important with garlic as it is notoriously poor at suppressing weeds and has trouble competing with other plants. That means that getting an early jump on weeding the garlic beds can save you a lot of headaches later. It's important to remember that when the weather warms up, weeds can explode in growth over a few days and this can make cleaning the garlic bed way harder than it needs to be.

On my farm, I start weeding as soon as I can see the rows of garlic coming up, even if the weeds have barely come out of the ground. Sometimes I even weed when it looks like no weeds are present, however if you look under the soil you can see small weeds the size of a string starting to come up. That's my favourite and easiest time to clean them out.

Fertilizing

Garlic is generally not considered a big feeder or to have major fertility requirements. A garlic bed with healthy garden soil and lots of compost is usually good enough. However it is still important that garlic plants have enough nutrients to grow strong and healthy for the whole season. 

In spring, it is especially important for garlic plants to have adequate levels of Nitrogen so that they can grow all the leaves needed to help form large bulbs later in the season. Soil amendments added in the fall like compost often have high levels of organic matter with adequate amounts of nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and most micronutrients but sometimes lack enough available nitrogen. Generally, amendments like alfalfa pellets, fish meal or other organic fertilizers contain higher levels of nitrogen.

So if it has been a cold, wet spring or if your garlic plants have been stressed early on in the growing season, it is always a smart idea to give the soil a little nitrogen rich top dressing every few weeks. This will feed your garlic important nutrients and make sure you have good sized bulbs at harvest time.


First Garlic Emerging in Spring April 15, 2015 12:36

 

As with every year, spring finally comes and most of us on the Canadian prairies can't believe we survived another winter. Once our bodies thaw out from the freeze, we start thinking about more exciting things like our gardens, the farmers market and warm summer days to come.

One of my favourite things to do in spring is to dig up a few garlic cloves to make sure that they survived the winter and check on root growth. It's always a relief to find cloves that are firm and white with nice thick roots. In exposed areas that don't have enough snow cover, our garlic sometimes has winter kill. The roots are usually shriveled up and the cloves have turned a yellow/orange translucent colour. If you see this, it basically means that your garlic froze to death.

Although it's nice to know that the garlic survived the winter, the most exciting time for me is when the soil has warmed up enough for the first garlic plants to start popping out of the ground. On our farm, that can be anytime from mid-April to early-May depending on the year.

 

This year, the weather warmed up very early in spring and our first garlic plants started emerging on April 12th. Most of the garlic is still underground, but a few varieties decided it's time to get growing.

The first variety out of the ground on our farm this season is a softneck type called Purple Artichoke. It's from British Columbia, so we weren't sure how well it would perform here on the prairies. It seems to survive our winters very well, has great root growth and it starts growing early in spring. We'll see how it does over the rest of the summer.

As for our other varieties, many have good root growth but are just starting to send up the first leaf and should be fully emerging over the next week or two. Many of our Porcelain varieties seem to be taking their time, however they are vigorous growers and will make up for it once warmer weather comes. 

 

 


Garlic Growing Plans 2015 March 13, 2015 14:14

Manitoba Garlic

Spring Looks Like It's Almost Here!

It's almost spring and we finally have time to sit down and take a good look at what has all happened this past fall and what's going to be happening this spring. We planted some new garlic varieties that we'll be growing to produce seed for this fall. We'll now be growing a total of 40 different garlic varieties, many of which will be available this fall 2015. We've been busy the past few years selecting the best varieties of garlic for growing here in Canada.

New Varieties We're Growing

Georgian Crystal (Procelain): Has a hot, full flavour. Bulbs average 4 cloves each and the plants are strong growers which is typical of Porcelain garlic.

Buba Franchuk's (Rocambole): Has its roots in Winnipeg, Manitoba so we're obviously big fans of this. It's a strong garlic, that is less sweet than average. Being a Rocambole, we've planted our Buba Franchuk's bulb on a higher and dryer piece of our farm.

Purple Softneck (Artichoke): This is a braidable garlic that is easy to grow. It has a great sized bulb with smaller sized cloves. Has some purple colouring in the bulb skins.

Best Seller

Music (Porcelain): Although we have many different garlics, our biggest seller is the variety Music (Porcelain). It is a popular variety that's grown across Canada, with great success. It's extremely hardy, has vigorous growth and produces very large bulbs. There are about 4 to 5 clove per bulb and it has a mild, delicious flavour. For these reasons, it's not surprising that it is one of the most grown garlic varieties in Canada.

Garlic Availability

We've planted more than ever this year, so hopefully we have enough garlic for everyone. Once summer arrives, we'll have a better idea of how many garlic of each variety we'll have available for fall. We'll be selling food garlic starting in July at the St. Norbert Farmers' Market in Winnipeg and seed garlic starting in August through our online garlic store. If you are looking for garlic seed, please order early as we are usually sold out by September.


Growing Garlic in Manitoba March 12, 2015 15:59 1 Comment

Garlic & Manitoba's Cold Winter

Growing garlic in Manitoba can often be a challenge for people because of our extreme growing conditions. Often we just don't know what to expect when it comes to weather and that can make for an interesting garlic growing experience. Although we usually don't know when spring will arrive, how much rain we'll get or when the first frost of the year will hit us, there is one thing we can almost always expect, an extremely cold winter! Although a cold Manitoba winter can be tough on our bodies, it generally is a good thing for growing garlic.

Most garlic varieties such as Porcelain (which many gardeners & farmers grow across Canada), Purple Stripe and Rocambole do best in cold climates like Manitoba. This is because for garlic to grow and preform well, it needs to go through a dormant period where it is exposed to cold temperatures.

Fall Planting

In Manitoba, this means that we need to plant our garlic in the fall sometime. Although planting garlic in the spring is possible if you expose the garlic to cold temperatures artificially (such as a very cold refrigerator or controlled freezer that stays above -4 degrees Celsius), our season is usually too short and the garlic either does not form into a bulb or forms smaller bulbs. 

On our farm, we usually start planting garlic during the second week of September and hopefully are finished by the first week of October. Some growers in Manitoba will say that October 15th is the best date to start planting, but this is more suited for climates such as Ontario or BC. Our experience is that planting in September leaves enough time for the garlic to develop roots, but not have the first leaves emerge from the ground before spring.

To Mulch or Not to Mulch?

I have spoken with many people that grow garlic, however two very experienced garlic growers come to mind when I think about mulching. One of them was an older Ukrainian lady from north of Winnipeg, who said that see had never covered her garlic with mulch and that her garlic grows great year after year without any problems. That sounded good to me! The other grower was from southern Manitoba and said that she always covers her garlic with a thick mulch, no less than 8" to 12" thick. Her belief was that our winters are too cold and that the mulch protects that garlic in her garden. That sounded like a lot of work!

So I really liked the advice from the Ukrainian lady and decided that on our farm, we would always grow garlic without mulch. It just seemed a lot easier to manage without having to spread all the straw over the garlic beds and less work is always a good thing on a farm. That was until the winter of 2013/2014 and the extreme cold that came with it. The cold temperatures along with a more exposed location decimated a huge portion of our garlic crop for that year. When spring came we discovered that over half of our garlic had winter killed. Not good!  

Today we use mulch on all of our garlic as an insurance measure. We feel that we just cannot depend on getting enough snow every year. We've already checked on the garlic for this year and found that it all appears to have survived the winter even though it was again planted in the same exposed location. Good news for the farm! 

So why such a difference from one grower to another or one year to another? My guess is that it depends on the amount of snow cover that a grower receives. If you live in a location that is very sheltered and receives a lot of snow every year (especially early in the season) then it is fairly safe to plant garlic without mulch. If you have an exposed location, then using mulch for your garlic is probably a very good idea. 

 For more detailed information on topics like garlic seed, soils, harvesting, etc. click on growing garlic.    


Difference between Hardneck & Softneck Garlic March 10, 2015 00:46

Garlic Scape
Above: Garlic Scape

How to Identify Hardneck vs. Softneck Garlic:

For the most part, being able to tell the difference between hardneck and softneck garlic is easy. Hardneck garlics generally send up a flowering stock called the scape (similar to when an onion bolts). This scape starts at the base of the garlic bulb and goes up through the neck. This stock causes the neck of the bulb to have a "hard neck" and hence the name. With softneck garlic, this scape structure is lacking and therefore the garlic keeps it's "soft neck" at harvest time.

Hardneck Garlic
Above: Hardneck garlic with their distinctive hard stocks

Braiding & Bunching

Due to the softer neck, softneck garlic can be braided after harvest whereas hardneck garlic can be put into bunches or trimmed. Softneck garlic tends to also store much longer than hardneck garlic. This is because bulbs skins on softnecks are much tighter around the neck which prevents moisture on the inside of the bulbs from leaving and prevents diseases on the outside from getting in.

Climates:

In general, hardneck varieties tend to be more suited to cold climates, whereas softneck tend to thrive in warmer environments (although with a bit of care, both can be grown successfully in most places). Hardnecks have also been around for much longer than softnecks as they more closely resemble the wild garlics that humans first harvested thousands of years ago.  

Within the softneck and hardneck groupings, there are specific garlic families. These families all have different characteristics, however all share the same habit of either forming a scape structure or not. To complicate things a little bit, some families within the two garlic groupings will only form a scape under certain environmental conditions (such as cold winters). Most garlic growers call these weakly bolting, although they are technically considered to be hardnecks. 

HARDNECK GARLIC FAMILIES:

Purple Stripe
Marbled Purple Stripe
Glazed Purple Strip
Porcelain
Rocambole
→ Asiatic (weakly bolting)
Turban (weakly bolting) 

SOFTNECK GARLIC FAMILIES:

Artichoke
→ Silverskin 

 

 


Raised Beds - Something New and Old March 05, 2015 10:00

Using raised beds for growing vegetables has been around for thousands of years. People learned early on, that by building up the soil into mounds or beds, they could improve the growth of their crops. Today, this tradition of growing garlic and other foods on raised beds is being continued by farmers and gardeners all over the world. It is also being "relearned" by many growers that lost the knowledge of the benefits of raised bed farming or gardening.

The Benefits

About ten years ago when I started growing vegetables on a large scale, a good friend of mine (conveniently an agricultural engineer) suggested that I start growing all my crops on raised beds. He is a smart guy and his explanation seemed to make sense. He said it would warm up the soil earlier in spring, help with drainage issues, would improve the soil structure and would allow me to apply less manure or compost on my fields.

So I took his advice and starting growing my garlic and other vegetables on raised beds. The difference was nothing short of amazing. My crops came up faster in spring, when it rained heavily I didn't worry about the plants drowning, weeding was easier because the soil was looser and the plants looked amazing.

Everything looked better, but I noticed the biggest difference on my root crops like garlic, onions and carrots. This eventually allowed me to focus on growing mostly garlic, which would have been impossible without changing to raised beds.

Where did it go?

This was all great and I was happy that I made the change to raised bed farming, but I wondered why on earth had I never been taught this valuable method of growing. I called up my 80 year old grandfather (who I took over the farm from) and asked him if he had ever seen anyone using raised beds or mounds for growing vegetables.

Surprisingly he said yes, of course. His parents and grandparents used to grow all their garden vegetables on long raised beds when he was growing up and that the vegetables all grew wonderfully. Naturally I asked him why the heck everyone stopped using this technique to grow things (especially because of our clay soils). He said that as soon as they starting making gas rototillers, the raised beds kind of disappeared.

It was easier to plant the vegetables in long single rows with wide spacing so that you could rototill between the row. That meant that you need wide, flat garden areas where raised beds didn't work well. Obviously using the tiller made things a lot easier in terms of weeding, but getting rid of the raised beds ended up hurting the health of the garden over the long term.

My grandfather said that all that heavy rototilling (50 years+) ended up hurting the soil, making it worse and worse over time. The more you tilled, the harder the soil got, which meant you had to till more to loosen up the soil again (a bad cycle). This meant that the tilling became harder every year and the vegetables seemed to get continuously weaker - to the point where taking care of the garden became too much to maintain.

Today

Today most people know that excessive tillage hurts the soil and its hard to find someone that hasn't at least heard of raised bed growing, never mind having tried it in one form or another. There are many books out there that are written solely on the topic of raised bed gardening and it's almost impossible to find a general gardening book that doesn't have a chapter dedicated to the technique.

Ironically, often something "new" is really just something "old" that was lost. I'm just thankful it didn't take me long to discover this remarkably helpful "new & old" method that helps our farm so much.


Manitoba Vegetable Growers Association February 25, 2015 22:25

So I decided to go check out the Manitoba Vegetable Growers Association AGM yesterday to do some networking and try to learn a few things. The group was very inviting and made me feel welcome (so much so that I decided to become a member as well). The meeting was led by Tom Gonsalves of Manitoba Agriculture and had a great line up of speakers on various topics.

Crop Insurance

First off was a presenter from MASC to speak about crop insurance for Manitoba vegetable growers. He had some comparisons between vegetable crops and more main stream crops like soybean, corn, etc. which showed that vegetable crops tend to be much more risky than most other crops. I'm sure this wasn't a surprise to any of the farmers in the room of course, but was a good visual representation of how insects, diseases and weather can all hurt the bottom line of farmers on an industry wide scale. 

Vegetable Diseases

My favorite speaker was Dr. Vikram Bisht from MAFRD. He spoke about some of the new diseases vegetable growers should be keeping an eye on. This included blackleg and a few other newer diseases to Manitoba that could be more a problem moving into the future. He emphasized cleaning equipment when moving from field to field and preventing the movement of soil in order to minimize disease movement. I was also able to talk with him one on one about managing diseases, viruses and nematode in garlic. He said that good observation of the crop and doing plant testing in the lab when anything suspicious shows up is a good line of defense.

I was able to speak with him about growing garlic in Manitoba and was able to give me some tips on managing pests and diseases in our garlic crop.

Education

Another interesting topic was a presentation on the Assiniboine Community College in Brandon Manitoba on what they are doing with their agricultural, horticultural and environmental education programs. I found it particularly interesting that they offer programs for culinary arts, horticultural production, sustainable food systems and environmental sciences. That pretty much touches on everything from growing food to preparing food and everything in between. I think that their horticultural production program would be very good for anyone interested in growing fruits or vegetables on a commercial scale.


Conferences

Tom Gonsalves talked about the Direct Farm Marketing Conference coming up in Brandon next month. There's going to be a lot of great speakers attending, not to mention myself. I'll be talking about the benefits of greenhouse production in Manitoba as well as my experiences selling at Farmers' Markets' in another session. The two day conference is great for new and existing farmers who plan on or are currently direct marketing any of their products.  

 

 

  


Storing Garlic At Home February 07, 2015 18:58

Storing Garlic

I get a lot of questions from people on how they should store their garlic at home. Storing garlic is not overly complicated and if a few basic steps  are taken, your garlic should stay in good shape for a long time.

(1) Garlic Varieties

Although the average homeowner doesn't always know the type of garlic they have purchased or grown themselves, it is important to understand that not all garlic keeps as well as others. Most of the garlic you purchase at the grocery store is grown in warmer climates such as California and are a type of softneck garlic. These tend to store for a very long time and are not overly difficult to keep in good condition when storing at home.

The majority of garlic that gardeners grow in Canada or purchase at local Farmers' Markets is considered hardneck garlic (although some softneck garlic is grown in Canada as well). Hardneck garlics tend to store for a shorter period of time, but do have a very wide range of storage ability depending on the specific variety. They can be stored for as little as 2 months and as long as a year.

(2) Temperature & Humidity

When being stored, garlic does not like to be too warm or too cold.  The temperature should remain above 10⁰C (to prevent sprouting) and below 20⁰C (to prevent premature dehydration) with an ideal range of 13⁰C or 14⁰C. This means that you should never store your garlic in a refrigerator as it will begin to sprout (not to mention loose it's flavour).

Also, it is important to keep the garlic in a cool dark place with good air circulation (especially in more humid conditions).  Humidity between 45% and 50% (similar to conditions in many homes) is best to minimize dehydration.

(3) Storage Method

Hanging your garlic in mesh bags is usually the best option.  This allows good air circulation and helps prevent molds or decay. Some people that don't have a mesh bag use pantyhose instead, as they act similar and don't hold moisture. Storing garlic in a closed container is not a good idea and will almost always lead to molds developing. This even includes things like paper bags which do not allow enough air circulation. 

(4) Location

Hanging garlic in a basement works best for most people. Basements tend to be a bit cooler than the rest of the house and usually have the proper humidity levels. If your basement is on the humid side, it is very important to have the garlic stored in an area with good air circulation. Some homeowners will use a small fan to create a bit of air flow, but the fan should never be blowing directly on the garlic as this will usually cause it to dehydrate prematurely. 

If you don't have a basement, a cool dark location such as a bottom cupboard or pantry can work good as well. The air circulation in a cupboard is not usually very good, however it is still better than storing the garlic out in the open such as on a counter top. 


Planting Grocery Store Garlic December 17, 2014 02:19

Time and time again, people try to plant garlic that they bought from the grocery store as seed garlic and then are disappointed with the outcome. A small number of people have had success doing this, however this is rare and in general is not a great idea. 

Grocery store garlic is often sprayed with chemicals to delay the bulbs from sprouting. These garlic also have a number of potential problems when trying to use for garlic seed. They are almost entirely grown in California and China where they have issues with diseases, viruses and parasites (nematodes) that could potentially invade your soil. The garlic bulbs might look ok, however these microscopic invaders can easily stay hidden until the right conditions arise. Many of these garlic pests can enter your soil once the garlic seed is planted and infect your growing plants. Once present, it can take many years (even decades) for many of these pathogens and parasites to disappear from your soil.

In addition, California and China have much warmer climates than Canada, which means their garlic is not adapted to our Canadian climate and will likely grow poorly in most situations. Not growing the right garlic for your climate, often results in a waste of a gardener's or farmer's time and a huge disappointment when it comes time to harvest.

It's best to stick with trusted garlic seed sources that you know will work for your region and climate.